When British General James Wolfe took his fatal wound on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 it wasn’t the first time he’d engaged in mass conflict with rebellious citizens. Some 10-years earlier he had been an officer in the English Army facing “Bonnie Prince” Charles (Stuart) in the decisive battle of Culloden to decide who would rule Scotland.
His role in the decisive English victory over Prince Charles in the Jacobite Rising was the last bloody battlefield confrontation between England and Scotland for the right to govern Scotland. The last major battlefield, but not the end of the war. That is scheduled to end next month when Scottish voters from the age of 16 decide whether they want to remain united with England or go it alone on the world stage.
Whichever way that vote goes we should remember the winners of wars – or referendums – do not always bring truth, justice and a better way of life in their wake. And they certainly didn’t when the English thrashed the Scots at Culloden and drove the “Bonnie Prince” not just from Scotland but from the British Isles.
Little more than a year after that triumph the English dominated parliament in London brought into law The Act of Proscription “for the more effectual securing of the peace” and the “more effectual disarming of the highlands in Scotland.” Peace and disarmament, the most worthy of objectives, until we read the boldly pronounced directives England thought necessary to calm the still restive Scots and integrate the northern ruffians with the gentlemanly English.
The Proscription Act of 1747 ordered that as of August 1 of that year the use of highland dress would be “restrained.” For “restrained” read “banned entirely.” It stated any man or boy in “that part of Great Britain called Scotland” would be fined, jailed or worse for the repeated offence of wearing any clothes “commonly called Highland Clothes” like the “plaid, philibeg, or little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the highland garb, and that no tartan or partly coloured plaid shall be used for greatcoats.”
The penalty for wearing anything resembling “Highland Clothes’’ – six months in jail without bail. For a second offence: “To be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for a space of seven years.” Significantly Scottish military regiments sworn to fight for Great Britain were allowed to retain kilts and bagpipes.
To aid the push to peace through assimilation Gaelic became a forbidden language with schools, private and public, registered and monitored to make sure Gaelic was never heard. Students caught conversing in their naïve Gaelic were punished as viciously as 200 years later were students in Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
Breaking school curriculum rules brought teachers six months in jail for a first offence; a second transportation “to some of his Majesty’s plantations in America for life.”
The end result of such a depressing formula for peace and the re-shaping of a culture? Well, whisper if softly, but it wasn’t all bad. It was in the years after James VI of Scotland became King James the First of England and united the two kingdoms that Scotsmen blossomed in the arts, literature, the world of science and invention. They were quick learners, and rapidly made their mark well beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom.
By the late 1800’s, in love with the English language they needed for success beyond their borders, they allowed native Gaelic to fall into virtual disuse. A century later in the 1980’s the old love for the old language found new support and in Scotland today road signs read in English and Gaelic; there are theatre productions in both languages; new Gaelic literature, and growing use of Gaelic place names.
In 2005 the still new (Devolution) Scottish Parliament passed The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act to once more formally recognize Scotland’s First national language.
On Thursday, September 18, registered voters will answer “yes” or “no” on a simple referendum question: Should Scotland be an independent country?
As noted in my earlier story on the subject, this time the issue should be without bloodshed – and with teenagers between 16 and 20 strongly affecting the answer.
(The full text of The Proscription Act 1747 can be found at http://www.electricsscotland.com/history/proscription_1747. It was repealed in 1782)